A user asked this question: Is a character's OFFICIAL alignment their ACTED or INTENDED alignment? After much fuss over someone answering the question before it was tagged with the correct game, the question was put on hold as primarily opinion based. mxyzplk then declined to re-open the question on the grounds that questions about alignment are off-topic.

I argue that this question is on topic because it objectively answered within the Pathfinder core rules here:

Alignment is a curious creature; it summarizes the philosophy and morality of a person, and yet no two characters with the same alignment are exactly alike.

Is this question on topic?


4 Answers 4


The question is subjective for the same reason most alignment questions are subjective, as covered in Are questions about alignment on topic?

The thing is, the alignment rules (in all editions) are a contradictory mess. This requires people to overlay their own philosophy and value system to make any sense of it. But this is what makes questions about them hopelessly subjective.

For example, you say "obviously" the answer is intended, and you might quote

A creature's general moral and personal attitudes are represented by its alignment

(A stronger argument than the line you do quote, which isn't all that clear).

But of course if you read deeper into the rules, you find

When a character performs an action that is out of character for his listed alignment, the GM decides whether the action is enough to shift the character's alignment on the appropriate alignment track, and if so by how much...

In the end, this is like debating "is salvation through faith or works?" (Like, as in pretty much exactly like.) Pathfinder has a wide variety of examples in its rules, adventure paths, NPC collections, monster collections, etc. of alignments that seem more "heart" driven, more "action" driven (the redemption of the succubus in Wrath of the Righteous for example). There's no single right answer.

And in the end, we had that meta and have this rule not because of a legalistic argument that these questions are off topic - but because they have a history of degenerating into subjective messes. This question is well on its way there. 37 comments. +6/-4 voted answer. If we reopen it, it'll just turn into the usual giant mess, require lots of community and mod intervention, cause hurt feelings and general problems between users, and get closed again. We've seen it dozens of times and aren't interested in seeing it again.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You make no reference to the primary topic of the question, which asks about spells like Detect Evil. The question is answerable because the spell's text says what it does. Furthermore, if you look at the accepted answer of the other Meta question you cited, it specifically states that a question like this, a Mechanical question, is on-topic and objective. "The Good KindSo it's appropriate and on topic to ask alignment questions that are: Mechanical - how does changing alignments work, etc." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is also "unclear what it's asking," because it is asking mainly about does alignment match intent or actions, but late in the question it asks about how someone would detect under detect evil, which is a separate question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, it doesn't. It asks specifically about whether the Alignment that goes on the Character sheet, the one that Detect Evil "sees", is the one that you are pretending to be or actually are. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, it doesn't. It asks, and I quote, "for a spell like Detect Good/Evil, would the caster see that she would do the right thing (even though she doesn't really want to) or would they see that she doesn't want to do the right thing (even though she will)?" You are somehow mentally translating this subjective question into the objective question of "does Detect Evil show what alignment is on the character sheet" - but that is not what is actually being asked in the question. I'd leave a question open that just asked "does Detect Evil detect what alignment the character has on their sheet." \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, I don't see anything in your answer that specifically addresses the question in-question. You like to side-step and point to a lot of other scenarios, and like to point to a certain answer as that is somehow proof, and you are making the fallacious "Slippery Slope" claim. I see no logical reasoning here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's your prerogative. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, I really am not. It's a longer-way of wording, "How does Detect Good/Evil work," but that doesn't change the meaning. Reread the topic of the question: What is the Official Alignment. Then apply that context to the question. I'm sure that you will see that it is merely an example and not some sort of "attempt to overthrow the meta." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are welcome to work with the OP to edit the question into clarity in that case. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, your answer is wrong. The Accepted answer is +9/-5. Please correct this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do not use flags in an attempt to backdoor control the conversation. I understand you are passionate about this question, but don't let that lead you into trouble. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath It reads to me as a fairly straight-forward “what alignment is this” question. That the “this” part involves a combination of thoughts and actions and a spell is interesting, but doesn’t seem to me to change the basic question from “what alignment is this” in a way that can avoid the usual subjectivity and ethics flame wars. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 22:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tend to read questions by assuming that whatever's in the title is the actual question, and the question text is just to clarification of the actual question and examples. Hence I've largely ignored the rambling question text and focused on the question (which, as I've said, can be directly and objectively answered within Pathfinder's rules). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @QuadraticWizard That’s backwards. Titles are length-limited, frequently poorly written, and editable to be more accurate—they are merely titles. The question post itself is the question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 0:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although when the question in the title and in the body differ, again, that's a good reason to close as unclear and edit to fix, don't you think? \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 19:38

This question is on topic because it's a rules question with a mechanical answer.

Two guidelines primarily apply to questions on alignment:

  • The meta Are questions about alignment on topic?, which defines that some questions on alignment are on topic, and some are not
  • The general rule that answers may be closed if they are inherently subjective

The accepted meta answer is that mechanical questions about game rules are valid, and as are social questions such as how to deal with alignment problems at the table.

Conversely, debates over what alignment you think Batman is are inherently subjective because it's always "primarily opinion based", and these are not allowed on the grounds of being inherently subjective, and ultimately being duplicates of the same question.

The question asks what alignment means: beliefs, or works? This is objectively answerable within the Pathfinder game rules, which define alignment.

The asker is not asking what alignment people think a character is. They're asking what a certain game rule means, and the answer to that is contained within Pathfinder's game rules.

Mod mxyzplk, who opposes re-opening the answer, makes a number of points, with which I politely disagree:

  1. That alignment is inherently subjective. While that's generally true, I disagree in the case of this question because it's asking about a specific facet of the alignment rules, and can be answered objectively on those grounds.
  2. That Pathfinder's rule are contradictory or unclear. Many rules in D&D and Pathfinder are contradictory or unclear, and the answer to such questions is often to cite the relevant rules and any official game FAQ entries, then to note that it may still require the GM to adjudicate. This has always been considered a valid answer when applied to other questions.
  3. That the top answer is controversial because it has many downvotes. These downvotes were acquired because the user jumped the gun and answered the question before the asker clarified which game system they were speaking about.
  4. That the question already collapsed to pointless debate in comments. While there were many comments, they were largely discussing whether or not the question was on topic, and whether it was valid for the user to assume which RPG system was being discussed.
  5. That the question cannot be answered without resorting to subjectivity. I have on occasion here seen questions with a note that only objective rules-based answers will be accepted, and subjective answers will be deleted. If not for the unnecessarily strict enforcement of a taboo on alignment-based questions, this question could readily be answered under those conditions.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Part of that accepted meta answer however is also that “the bad kind” of alignment questions tend to only have one single type of correct answer explaining that that it's super subjective, all the rules contradict each other because alignment rules are a tire fire so anything can be considered valid, here's some guidance in making a GM call, etc. I can see that happening again here, given the rules as usual contradict each other in mutually incompatible ways. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 13:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ A distinction can be made here: questions that can have a mechanical answer, and questions that can only have a mechanical answer. The latter is a purely mechanical question, while the former isn’t a purely mechanical question and depends on how people choose to answer it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Only rules-as-written questions can only have a mechanical answer. The meta entry does not specify that an answer must be answerable only by mechanics to be valid, and in fact gives the potentially non-mechanical "how does changing alignment work" as an example of a "good" question. The only thing the meta answer specifically invalidates is "What alignment is Batman?" type questions, which are impossible to answer objectively and can only be subjective. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ All this reasoning applies to the majority of PF alignment questions. However, we have determined that over time, most PF alignment questions go off the rails into subjectivity despite there being "some rules involved." Therefore I find nothing convincing about this reasoning, as it could be applied to many past questions that did, indeed, have to be closed for subjectivity and arguing. I'm afraid you are arguing "law" while we are arguing "order." \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Citations? You like to point to the slippery slope and say that, somehow, this question will cause widespread chaos. Frankly, the rules are the rules. You claim that you support this "order" that somehow is more important than the equitable application of the rules, but you are really just circumventing the rules to suppress any sort of question you think might somehow break an internet site where questions can always be closed later on and there are no real-world ramifications to leaving a question open and closing it only if it devolves. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not arguing that this is a good alignment question because there are "some rules involved". I'm saying it's good because, unlike "What alignment is Robin Hood?", this one actually can be objectively answered within the core rules. The forbidden question "What alignment is X?" is only forbidden because it cannot be answered purely objectively. My suggestion therefore is that rules-as-written alignment questions which forbid speculation should be considered valid questions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 21:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am upvoting this answer since I do believe that the question this whole debate was started over is on-topic and a perfectly answerable question within the scope of the site rules. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I generally agree with this answer, and upvoted it, "the unnecessarily strict enforcement of a taboo on alignment-based questions" is absolutely necessary, based on long experience. Alignment questions go off the rails enough that we had to make a whole policy on it, which had a ton of votes. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 2:09
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath You ask for citations on why alignment questions are treated differently: Read the Meta Q posted in the question here for a few of them. Alignment questions crop up occasionally, and they are much more likely that other questions to end up causing trouble, which is why enforcement on them is stricter than for other questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 2:12

The question is certainly on-topic, which has nothing to do with being opinion-based or not. However, you are wrong that the rules indicate that Utilitarianism is an invalid RAW alignment coder for pathfinder. If Pathfinder did indicate an anticonsequential alignment resolution system, then the question would not be opinion based. However, since Pathfinder does not, in fact, indicate that (rather, it indicates that alignment refers to the 'philosophy and morality' of a person, which is 'internal' only if morality is internal, which it isn't in many ethical frameworks), the correct answer is 'this depends on what moral framework you've coded alignment onto in your game', but when that's the correct answer we historically also have a lot of VTCs as opinion-based.


This question is objective because the game as it stands cannot be played without knowing the answer

Spells within Pathfinder, such as Detect Evil and See Alignment cannot work, and Paladin, Inquisitor, Oracle, and Cleric classes break if the answer cannot be known. These spells and classes are extremely important to the game, and thus, rules for the system have been put in the Core Rulebook.

This question asks about how the system works, for which there is a definitive answer in the Core Rulebook. It asks whether Alignment is based on Intent or pure Acts, which is most certainly defined within the PF system, and the accepted answer demonstrates several sources straight from the Core Rules which demonstrate an objective answer to a question that the Pathfinder Developers anticipated.

Assuming otherwise would say that Paladins are entirely homebrew despite having official rules, because the system upon which their are based, which is definitely established in the core rules, is somehow "inherently subjective."

To say that the answer cannot be known, or is inherently subjective, means Organized Play cannot exist.

Assuming that any answer to this question is inherrently subjective means Organized Play can't exist, since the Alignment rules are "entirely subjective" and could never be agreed-upon widely. The objective fact that Pathfinder Society somehow has managed to exist globally for years despite this obviously critical apparent flaw in the rules only goes to show that the Core Rules have an answer that is objective according to Official DMs, Developers, and Judges around the world.


Therefore, it must be ruled that the question of Acts-based Alignment versus Intention-based Alignment has an objective answer which is present in the rules, and that this question therefore is objective because there is an objectively-correct, rules-based answer to it.

Finally, the Question has a Mechanical Answer

The accepted answer shows that there is, in-fact, a mechanical answer, and cites the Core Rules as proof. The answer is well-defined in the core rules, which means that there is an objective answer to the question, which, in-turn, means that the question is not inherently subjective.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Given it's generally agreed D&D's alignment systems are a self-contradictory mess ever since they also became a personality mechanic, and we play regardless and organized play exists regardless, I don't think it holds water to suggest the game cannot be played and organized play cannot exist without knowing an objectively correct answer for an alignment system matter. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I would argue that, if there were no correct answer, that the rules would break and there would be no Organized Play at all because no one could agree enough to make Organized Play. Also, your answer references D&D, and the current edition of which (for which Organized Play exists) has Alignment as much less critical to the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 22:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, Pathfinder's alignment systems. (They're mostly the same.) You can argue there'd be no organised play at all... but we know that's false. Organised play gets along with a self-contradictory set of alignment rules for which there's rarely a single objectively correct answer. (I assume you're not arguing that the alignment rules are, in fact, a bastion of consistency, so I'm suggesting your logic doesn't follow because the conclusions not matching what we know to be true demonstrate there's something wrong with it.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 23:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener And yet the spell Detect Evil is present in PF Society. So that means there is an official ruling on how it works. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 23:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath There is undoubtedly a correct answer. (The correct answer is the frame challenge “Neither — the spell will just say what’s on the character sheet.”) The problem isn’t that it doesn’t have an objective answer. The problem is that the question as phrased is asking what alignment two behaviours are, and that type of question is highly flammable. Even if a question would be fine if people behave well, questions types that cause fights 95% of the time are something the community has decided are not welcome. Hence, alignment questions phrased this way have been eliminated. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 1:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I’m sure it could be edited to not present behaviours and ask what alignment the spell will show, and that would probably be fine. (Asking if the edits are helpful, of course.) It just hasn’t been, and the current version is highly flammable. (Your answer would be approximately correct still, though a bunch of paragraphs might be unnecessary then.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 1:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ So if alignment questions aren't able to be effectively answered here, then it's the end of gaming as we know it... Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! Though, we haven't been answering subjective alignment questions and by some miracle the hobby has survived for all of us, so far. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk If questions that pertain to how the character sheet can't be answered here, then this site serves no purpose. Don't strawman. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 2:38

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